Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Iyar 5767 - May 10, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Proposal to Provide Chareidi Institutions Equal Funding Passed in First Reading

By Eliezer Rauchberger and Betzalel Kahn

The Knesset plenum voted 45-1 in favor of a government- sponsored bill regarding funding by local authorities for "recognized by unofficial" educational institutions in a first reading on Monday. Virtually all institutions with that status are chareidi.

The proposal was supported by coalition parties Kadima, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor; as well as opposition parties UTJ, HaIchud HaLeumi/NRP and the Likud — and even Arab parties. Only Meretz voted no.

Initiated by Minister Meshulam Nahari of Shas, the proposal would require local authorities to provide chareidi educational institutions defined as "recognized by unofficial" (i.e. Chinuch Atzmai and Maayan Hachinuch HaTorani) the same level of funding that government schools receive. For the first time this would anchor government support of chareidi educational institutions in legislation and as part of the regular budgeting process.

The need for the proposed law arose following a Justice Ministry directive to the local authorities to fund the chareidi education system exclusively through the Education Ministry's Support Committee, and not also from the local authority budget as had been done up until then. As a result of the move many chareidi institutions were left without heating, electricity, cleaning services, and the like which had been provided out of the budgets of the local authorities and not the national Education Ministry.

PM Ehud Olmert made a point of attending the deliberations and the vote on the proposal to show the importance he attaches to the matter.

Finance Minister Nahari presented the law in the name of the government, saying it rectifies a longstanding injustice. He noted that the money would not come from state coffers but from local authorities, whose budgets consist of money collected from every citizen — including chareidi citizens — in the form of local property taxes (arnona). "The obligations [to pay] are equal but the rights are not equal. The [local] authority funds all children sent to government schools, but does not fund on a regular basis those who study in the recognized but unofficial system. And still the government education system will have preferential treatment, for the law states that local authority budgeting will be according to Education Ministry funding — and the Education Ministry shows favoritism toward the government educational system."

Before the vote MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said although the government and Minister Nahari should be commended for bringing the law for a first reading, the law has a long way to go. "The legal advisors [of government ministries and of local authorities] will try various ways to impede it and today they are the ones controlling the country. Why did this proposed law come into the world? After all, for years there was no problem with the local authorities. And then along came the head of support funding at the Justice Ministry and determined in a reply to the High Court that the chareidi education system does not deserve to receive anything from the local authorities."

Rabbi Gafni cited an incident that took place before Pesach at the Chinuch Atzmai school in Ohr Yehuda, where the electricity was turned off. When the Education Minister ordered the local authority to reconnect it, the local authority said the directive from the Justice Ministry's head of support funding prevented it from doing so. The Prime Minister himself had to intervene in order to deal with the involvement of the legal advisors. "There's a limit to how much we are willing to be in this Gehennom," said MK Gafni. "The legal advisors are controlling you. They tell you what to do. The government is not in control. I could talk for days on end about this Gehennom we're living in because of the legal advisors."

The Knesset also approved a proposal by MKs Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz and Rabbi Moshe Gafni to make budget equality guidelines apply to "exempt" institutions (e.g. talmudei Torah) as well. "Recognized by unofficial" educational institutions include the Bais Yaakov schools, the Shas- sponsored Ma'ayan HaChinuch HaTorani, and Chinuch Atzmai schools. They get almost all of their funding from the government (the national Education Ministry and local authorities). Since they compete directly with the free government schools, they generally do not charge tuition, though they do raise funding from private donors. "Exempt" institutions include the talmud Torah chadorim for boys which get a lesser but still large proportion of their budget from the government. They generally supplement their government income by charging tuition and fundraising.

According to Rabbi Gafni, Rabbi Ravitz notified the Education Committee, which discussed the proposed law, that the privately-sponsored laws would be combined with Minister Nahari's Government Education Law. "I reached an agreement with Minister Nahari that we would make an effort in the committee to have the law apply to all institutions in accordance with the Education Ministry budget, but we would not hold up the approval of the laws in these talks," said Rabbi Gafni.


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